Friday, August 10, 2012

18. Change

Change, of ideas, concepts, knowledge, beliefs, values, rules, and so on, is perhaps the most blatantly obvious part of experience. But for many philosophers it was an insoluble enigma. It was denied for two reasons. First, acceptance of change would mean a denial of immutable absolutes, and that would mean a fall back into the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of human earthly life. That is not an argument but an emotion. An argument was the following. Either novelty is really new and does not arise from what already exists (discontinuity), and then it arises out of nothing, which is not credible, or it arises from what already exists (continuity), but then it is not really new. So, change is illusory, that was the preposterous conclusion.

The argument against novelty in continuity is silly. There can be genuine novelty arising from what existed before. The paragon example is evolution. New species are genuinely new forms of life yet they arise from previously existing gene pools, by mutation and recombinations of genes together with evolutionary selection of their carriers.

How about knowledge? How can new ideas arise out of old ones? In a later piece on invention, in a series of pieces on knowledge and truth, I will show how that might work.

In language new words arise and meanings of existing ones change. Consider poetry and science. In a later piece on meaning change, in a series of pieces on meaning, I will show how that might work. I will also show how universals may change in the process of their application to individuals. I will also discuss how not only the meaning of a sentence depends on the meanings of the words in it, but also the meanings of words depend on the sentence and its context of expression.

That is a crucial point of logic in view of an earlier discussion, in this blog, of how individuals (here sentences) can have features (here words) that have a quality (here meaning) that is uniquely their own, even though there is also similarity of quality (meaning) with the same features (words) in other individuals (sentences). This point is crucial for preserving the integrity of individuals under the sway of universals.

Not only is it possible to account for change, but inclusion of change helps to resolve persistent philosophical problems that are insuperable from a static perspective, the perspective that denies change. Consider what is perhaps the most fundamental, perennial problem of philosophy: the question whether the world (or our view of it) depends on the mind (idealism) or, the other way around, that the mind depends on (is constructed from observation of) the world (realism). From a static perspective it cannot be both, but from a dynamic perspective it can. At any moment we perceive the world according to mental categories (idealism) but those categories have previously been formed in interaction with the world (realism) (and they will keep on changing from experience). 



  1. Is dualism inherent to western philosophy? Noud

  2. Hoi Bart, ik heb op Twitter en op de besloten community-site links naar deze site gemaakt. Dank & groet!
    Harry te Riele